Faith and Works
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Tonight at our Aletheia Bible Study, we looked at the topic of Faith and Works. Something that the church unfortunately has gotten horribly wrong many times. Because there are two verses that at first sight seem to contradict each other. So here they are:
Romans 3:28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
James 2:24 You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
These two verses are just perfect for those trying to disprove the Bible, right? You can hardly find a clearer contradiction in the Bible than in these two verses, right? Well, not so fast. Because I believe that Paul in the book of Romans and James in his letter talk about the same subject matter, but look at it from different angles. Here’s what I mean by that.
Paul in his letter to the Romans states that faith is all that is needed for salvation. His focus is on: “All are sinners, none is right with God. The only way to obtain righteousness with God is by Faith. Works can never save you. Faith is the only way to be reconciled with God. And it’s sufficient. You don’t need to add works to your Faith. Those who believe in Christ will be saved. Nothing else needed.”
James looks at the same topic, but talks about evidence of Faith. His point is: “If you really believe in Jesus, you will live differently. You can’t just say with your words ‘I believe in Jesus’ and then think that’s all there is. If you really believe that, you will live differently. You will honor Jesus in all that you do. You will obey Him. You will try to please Him. You will hate sin. You will overflow with that love you have received from Him, and in turn love others. All these works are evidence that you really believe what you say you believe. If you say you believe in Jesus, but don’t live it out at all, then maybe you need to ask yourself whether you are just saying that you believe in Jesus, but deep down in your heart, you might actually believe something else. Or you might have a lot of doubts whether this is really true.”
If you look at the whole context of the letters, the passages around these two verses, the purpose of the two letters, the audience these two men were writing to, etc. then it becomes very clear that these two men talk about the same topic in a very different context. And that’s why Paul in his letter that is targeting very young Christians emphasizes the fact that “Faith is enough for salvation”. James on the other hand writes to more mature Christians, emphasizing the fact that “lip service of Faith is not enough, you got to live it out”. Hence the two verses that sound like they contradict each other. In the bigger context however, we can see that they don’t. These two verses actually complement each other. One talks about salvation. The other one about sanctification as a confirmation and evidence of salvation.
That then leads to the question: What kind of works is James talking about? What kind of works are we expected to do that confirm our Faith, that confirm our salvation?
There are many principles that can be found in the Bible. But tonight we specifically looked at one topic: The book of 1 John. There are many examples listed, how we can test ourselves whether we truly have Faith. I want to focus on some of them in this blog. Maybe I’ll add some more in the next blog.
Loving God more than the world
1 John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Just to be clear: The Bible doesn’t say that we cannot enjoy the world. Relationships, nature, work, hobbies, money,… all these things are good. God wants us to enjoy them. So this verse doesn’t mean that “everything in this world is bad”.
But the question that John is asking here is: What do we set our hearts on? Do we set our hearts on pleasing God? And the worldly pleasures have to conform to this ultimate goal? Or do we set our hearts on worldly pleasures, and we compromise God’s principles, when there is a conflict?
Let me just give you this example. Let’s just assume that my boss was asking me to lie to a client, to get the deal done. If my heart is set on God, I would choose to say: “No, I won’t dishonor God with my work. I won’t lie. Even if it costs me my job.” If my heart is set on money and financial security, and God is 2nd, my decision would be: “OK. I know it’s wrong. But I’ll do it anyways.”
So what do we do when God’s will in the Bible and our own desires conflict with each other? Do we do what is right, and say “no” to the things of this world? Or do we compromise on what we know God is telling us? The answer to this question will tell us whether we love the world more than we love God. And this could be an indicator whether we are truly in the Faith.
Doing what is right
1 John 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone that does righteousness is born of him.
Very similar to the previous point: Do we generally do what is right? Or do we do what feels best to us? Do we have areas in our lives where we disobey God, and we simply keep going? Do we tithe, and trust God that He will truly provide for all our needs? Do we trust that keeping sex within the context of marriage only is the key to sexual fulfillment, and live accordingly? Do we keep clear boundaries to “not be unequally yoked with non-believers”, while at the same time relating to non-Christians to share the good news of Jesus with them? Or to ask similar questions the other way around: Do we curse people in our hearts? Commit murder and adultery in our hearts? (Matt. 5:22;28) Do we constantly envy people who seem to “have it all”? (Ex. 20:17)
Answering such questions will tell us a lot about whether we do have genuine Faith.
How would other people describe us?
1 John 1:6-7 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.
I want to be careful how I say this. Because what I’m going to say could sound as if we try to please people. That’s not my point. On the contrary: The Bible consistently warns us against this trap, trying to get approval from men. Nevertheless, we should ask ourselves a very crucial question:
Would people around us, who see us regularly, say that we are different?
How would your colleagues, friends, family members,… describe you? Would they say: “This person is just like everybody else. Nothing special.” Or would they say: “You know, this person is different. He has a higher standard on himself. And he actually lives it out. He doesn’t compromise on his principles, even though it makes things really difficult for him at times. I never heard him telling a lie, I never saw him cheat anybody. And he’s very generous. Instead of being greedy, he makes time for people. Something is different about him.”
We are not to try to please men. But the way people around us see us tells a lot about whether our Faith is genuine, or whether we are just giving lip service.
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Genuine believers live in fellowship. They know they need help. We need one another’s prayers. We need advice. We need someone to tell us when we do something wrong. We need a place where we can confess our sins and be prayed for, so that we can be forgiven (James 5:16). We need a place where we can ask theological questions, ask questions about Bible passages that we don’t understand, and hear from other people how they interpret and apply certain passages.
Withdrawing from the church, from fellowship with other Christians, could be evidence that our Faith is not genuine. Living in community, making ourselves vulnerable to other Christians, etc. is often evidence that we truly believe what we say we believe.
These are just some tests that we can apply on ourselves to see whether we are genuine in our Faith, or whether we simply give lip service. Of course, there are many more from Genesis to Revelations. We just have to read it and have the courage to ask ourselves such questions that might make us uncomfortable at the moment, but bring us eternal fruit if we dare to take an honest look at the true condition of our heart.
Reality is: On the day of judgement, many people who thought they are Christians will find out that they don’t qualify, and to their surprise, Jesus will send them to hell. I don’t want to have that kind of surprise when it’s too late. If I’m not right with God, I want to find that out now, while I can still do something about it. The book of 1 John is a wonderful book that we can use to exam ourselves whether we are truly Christians. So read it. Examine yourself. And allow God to give you the assurance that you are indeed a Child of God.
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